Tender Mercies

Universal Pictures; directed by Bruce Beresford

If there is a heartland left in America, it is located in the region of the soul. The only road maps there are in the lines that run like back roads from eyes familiar with the highs and lows of the terrain. Tender Mercies is a privileged glimpse through such eyes to one man’s interior landscape; it is the simple story of yet one more prodigal’s search for grace and peace.

In an age of cynicism and despair, this gentle film is unusual in its reaffirmation of values more primal than traditional—as our concepts of tradition are washed away and redefined in successive waves of media interpretation. Faith, family, hearth: these are the treasures of righteousness—costume jewelry to some, but good as gold to those of a simpler time and place. Into such a world steps Mac Sledge (Robert Duvall), a one-time country music giant whose public career and personal life have been destroyed by “too much apple jack.” He takes a handyman job at an isolated Texas motel, and quickly falls in love and marries his employer, a young widow (Tess Harper) with an inquisitive son (Allan Hubbard). Her faithful prayers and the “tender mercies” of God quietly aid Mac in his tentative search for personal redemption. His convalescent isolation slowly heals the open wounds of vulnerability. In the end, Mac has established a truce with his pain and doubt. Although his honesty prevents a final surrender to blind faith, his instincts tell him he has reached the borders of God’s merciful paradise.

It is ironic, but not surprising, that this delicious slice of Americana was directed by a foreign film maker. Often it is those from outside our borders who are better at analyzing the state of the union ...

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